Last week, North Edinburgh Arts opened up a new ‘Pennywell Pantry’. For a weekly membership of £3.50, members of the Pantry will be able to choose a selection of food with a value of £15-£20 each week. The Pantry is laid out just like a small super-market, where people go in and select items for their weekly shop, with fresh fruit & veg available.
“I personally think this is well needed in the community, not only for working people on low incomes in North Edinburgh, but also it takes away the stigma from ‘getting handouts’ instead you are contributing towards the cost,” an NEA volunteer said of the new Pantry on Pennywell Road.
The scheme is just one of a number of ways the work of activists in North Edinburgh has evolved over the course of the pandemic crisis. At the start of the crisis in March, 20+ community groups got together to establish the North Edinburgh covid-19 foodshare group, which delivered over 150,000 food packs a week between March and July. The group also delivered clothing, toys, arts and crafts packs. It is now developing a ten year vision for the local community.
“In short, we want to build a more sustainable and resilient community,” the group say in the latest ‘Community News from Edinburgh North’ newsletter. “We will increase our work with people deemed to be at highest risk to ensure that they are more financially secure, more connected and engaged with services and opportunities in our local community, to increase their life chances.”
Ways they aim to achieve this include “embedding local people in service design, delivery and evaluation”, “increasing local people’s involvement in local democracy/governance”, “strengthened, sustainable community anchor organisations”, and “exploring and supporting community asset transfer options”.
Out of bad, good can emerge. Connections built in a crisis can forge durable relationships over the longer term, building social infrastructure based on solidarity, mutuality and co-operation. Communities which can organise themselves and are at least partly self-reliant have much more capacity for everything, including being able to challenge the powerful, whether it be planning decisions, the local council or the government. Community solidarity and bottom-up politics are complementary endeavours.
Scotland will need many more examples like North Edinburgh over the coming weeks, months and years. Next week, the furlough scheme ends, as does the mortgage payment holiday. A sharp rise in job losses and evictions can be expected across the country as November begins. On 2 November, the new local restrictions come into force, which will hit some areas more than others. As cases are higher in the most deprived communities, undoubtedly it will be the poor who suffer most from local lockdowns.
Every person at the sharp end of this crisis is based somewhere. That place may not currently feel like a community, but it can with organisation and solidarity from the bottom up. I visited Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, a couple of years ago and I asked my local tour guide about how they had dealt with the harsh austerity of the past decade, with a crisis equivalent to two Great Depressions back-to-back. He told me that it had been very hard, but that the worst was at the beginning of the crisis, before they had learnt community solidarity and how to support one another. Scotland needs to learn community solidarity sooner rather than later.
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